Nebulae and general space travel...

Identity Crisis's picture
Identity Crisis
September 8, 2011 - 9:02pm
Howdy all.  Long time gamer here but still kinda new to SF, although I own the blue box and Knight Hawks, I have never been able to play other than a few basic scenarios.
     I have always had a problem trying to grasp space travel in SF.  It seems like they are limited to travelling to and from stars,  so what if I just wanted to go that-a-way and see what I find?  I guess I could just pick a point,  say 10 LT years that-a-way and make the calcs ect,  with a misjump still meaning I am within 10 LT years of that point in space but I guess I wanted to hear what you seasoned gamers have to say.  If you allow that kind of jumping,  how do you handle it?
     I also have a question about nebulae,  how do you handle them?  Seems like you cant jump through them,  I guess they block the scans.  Do you allow travel through them?  I obviously don't know anything about them in real life other than the basic "clouds of stuff in space".  
     I am sorry if this has been covered elsewhere in the forums,  if so could you please direct me to any existing discussion?  I also wanted to thank you all for some really interesting info,  been lurking on this site for a while.

Anonymous's picture
w00t (not verified)
September 8, 2011 - 9:37pm

There's no hard fast rule, but you'll find many suggestions. 

In my own games the AD map with lines represent well-known and travelled routes. Any time you enter a square or plot a course elsewhere its a simple astrogation roll to determine the results of the plot. This is how characters discover new routes, spacial objects, system etc. In fact I believe the sathar has routes that are only known to them...

Nebulae are hazards, you can go through them but it's very risky. Great place for people to hide. :-) Nebulae are kinda like road blocks in space, you have to go around. 

Also, you can download/order prints Star Frontiers and it's companion magazine at

AZ_GAMER's picture
September 8, 2011 - 9:50pm

I don't see any reason why you couldn't just pick a point in space to go explore. As far as the game is concerned the skill of your astrogator will help determine the sucess of your trip, or should I say accuracy of your trip. I think the point to the built in limitations in FTL and space travel are designed to add a challenge to the game experience instead of assuming that space travel is very routine and common place like it is in Star Wars and Star Trek. I think that going on a random exploration adventure to check out an un-charted or undercharted area of space is a great adventure hook. Some planning on the part of your crew is involved as space travel is still kind of risky in the frontier and full of all kinds of unknown dangers.  A mis-jump will give you the opportunity for all kinds of random adventures. In SF one of the key factors about jumps and making good jump calculations with a skilled astrogator is that you have limited amount of fuel and jumps your engines can accomplish. So if you are in an Assault Scout and you misjump you might be in a hurt locker when it comes to getting back home without assistance. A ship with a capacity to make three to four jumps has a little more margin for error if they find themselves exiting the void in the wrong spot.

As for nebula, I always assumed they were navigation hazards that caused problems with scanning and navigation detection and should be avoided if possible. If your sensors can't detect whats inside then you might have problems jumping into one or into a system near one. We have a resident real life space expert here named Terl Obar who could explain it more precisely than I can.

I view the limitations for space travel in the game as challenges that the players have to overcome or plan to deal with. In my house rules I try to make things a little simpler in my games but the idea that space travel is tricky, dangerous, and challenging is what gives the players that flying by the seat of their pants feeling when they strap in and blast off.

Identity Crisis's picture
Identity Crisis
September 8, 2011 - 10:05pm
Wow!  Thanks for the quick reply. 
 So do you allow your players to go through or into nebulae,  and how do you handle the dangers?
If I were in say K'aken-Kar and wanted to jump straight north east to an empty point in space, just beyond the Xagyg Dust Nebula would you allow it?  Or would you just call it a roadblock and have me  travel around it?  Its seems like all of the established routes steer clear of the nebula or just skirt its edge or thin areas so I am assuming there is some danger in there just looking for some simple game mechanic suggestions from the pros.    As far as the DWD material,  I have downloaded all the SFman issues and have to say that is the best fanzine I have ever seen.  I also have all the other downloads offered by that site.  Top quality stuff!   I somehow omitted the fact that I pretty much have a complete collection (either in print or pdf) in my first post.

Identity Crisis's picture
Identity Crisis
September 8, 2011 - 10:47pm
Thanks for another quick reply. 
     As far as the nebula goes I guess when I think about all of the sci-fi movies I have seen,  they always mess up any kind of long range scanning and force the crew to rely on short range visual methods of detecting anything.  That would make for pretty slow travel.  If a player insisted on travelling through one I guess I would have to resort the asteroids section of Knight Hawks for possible damage and then tell them that they will die of old age before they come out the other side due to the need for greatly reduced speeds.
     Oh and you brought up another question that was floating around in my head with your assault scout example.  Would you allow chr's to take along extra pellets over and above the 3 that can be stored in the size A engines? I wouldn't want to ruin the flavor of SF and make space travel common place like you said, but just taking along some extra pellets (10cm dia.) seems like it would be a simple, common sense, thing to do. I know they are radioactive but it seems like something that small could be stored in a smallish shielded container and then stored in the engine struts nearer to the engines than the ship.  Of course I wouldn't be making the trip without an engineer to take care of the refueling and overhauls.
     Sorry for all the stupid questions.  I have had these questions for many years and never had other GM's to compare notes with.  Until the last few years, for some reason,  I just never took advantage of these forums to ask questions.

Inigo Montoya's picture
Inigo Montoya
September 9, 2011 - 7:24am
I can't imagine a game ref not allowing extra fuel pellets. The true drawback on limited jumps is the need for the overhauls. This not only takes a lot of time, there is a vulnerability to pirates or other threats while the engines are offline. I also allow a chance for a botched job.

TerlObar's picture
September 9, 2011 - 7:38am
Since I've been called out by AZ_Gamer Smile here's my take.

1) I allow jumps to anywhere.  However, if it isn't along one of the lines on the map (i.e. a published route) you have to use the chart new route skill in the KH rules to make the jump out and again to make the jump back.  Once successful all further jumps to that point for that ship or astrogator are per the normal rules (i.e. spend 10 hrs per light year and the jump is automatically successful).

2) Nebula - In real life, the amount of nebula depicted on the map would be barely noticable.  It would cause some small dimming of stars beyond it but you could see through it.  Nebula are regions that are denser than most of space but are still pretty tenuous.  Even the best "hard" vacuums that can be created in a lab on earth still have more particles per cubic centimeter than most nebula in space (sometimes by a factor of a million or more).  That being said, I still make travel through the nebulas more difficult.  In my case, instead of each square counting as 1 light year for computation purposes, I make them count as two.  So if the jump you're trying to plot is 8 ly long and three of them are through the nebula, it is as if you're trying to plot a 11 ly jump instead (i.e. longer to plot and greater chance for failure).

3) Extra feul.  I definitely allow this.  A fuel pellet is the size of a large orange or small grapefruit (or a softball).  Not very big.  Even in a heavily shielded transport container, it probably takes up no more space than a cubic foot (0.027 cubic meters) or so.  So I allow ships to carry extra.  My rule is that a stored fuel pellet takes up 0.05 cubic meters so even if you only had a single cubic meter of storage space you could hold 20 of them (enough for 10 more jumps on an AS).  They are small enough you can stash them anywhere really but they usually stay on the engineering decks.  If you know you're going to be off exploring and have the cash for the extras, buy them.  You'll find a place for them even if it is under the junior crew member's bunk Foot in mouth.  If your ship has any type of a explicit cargo hold, they go in there and volume isn't an issue.

And welcome to the Frontier.
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
Webmaster - The Star Frontiers Network & this site
Founding Editor - The Frontier Explorer Magazine
Managing Editor - The Star Frontiersman Magazine

TerlObar's picture
September 9, 2011 - 7:56am
And another thing I thought of. Void travel is not an exact endeavor.  What I mean is that even starting from the same point and doing the calculations exactly the same and accelerating exactly the same way, you won't end up in the exact same place.  You could come out millions if not hundreds of millions of kilometers from where you came out the first time.

When jumping between stars that isn't a big problem as you're still pretty close and need to declerate anyway and have a good navigational beacon (i.e. the star) to guide on.

However, when jumping to empty space, there is no such beacon.  So jumping to return to the same place will put you somewhere near where you went the first time but not at exactly at the same spot. If you want to be able to return to an exact location, you'd have to leave some sort of beacon so you could find it again later.
Ad Astra Per Ardua!
Webmaster - The Star Frontiers Network & this site
Founding Editor - The Frontier Explorer Magazine
Managing Editor - The Star Frontiersman Magazine

jedion357's picture
September 9, 2011 - 11:52am
Well, Terl Obar weighed in on particle density in a nebula, which in a way nullifies what I wanted to say. I was going to point out that a nebula is dust and gas and as space terrain it could have two impacts. One a ship moving through it at high speed could be in effect sand blasting sensitive equipment on the out side of the hull, like antennas, radar, external cameras, etc. Thus you could enforce a speed limit for inside a nebula. Acceleration over 1 ADF as well could be detrimental though turning around and using max decel would be ok. Two nebula have mass and I comment on this since jumping and misjumping always seem to put you in a star system. I stress seems to here and the question of why would be linked very probably to the mass of the star. Couldjumping through a nebula affect a ship? Certainly possible. Also what about the ship that re-emerges in normal space? What are the consequences of two things occupying the same location at the same time? Not good I would think. There in lies the true danger in jumping into or through a nebula. Ship reappears in a nebula and rolls one dice per hull size to see how many systems were effected by a particle intersection at jump emergence; this includes biological systems (crew). Now the ship has some microscopic hull breaches, a crew member with a hole in his heart and a damage indicator in one engine. To top it off they're traveling a 1% of C having sensitive equipment on the hull sand blasted and are likely to end up blind if they don't slow down but in the middle of a nebula they wont be able to speed back up to jump speed. This is not cool unless they have the fuel and food for a trip to the nebula's edge.
I might not be a dralasite, vrusk or yazirian but I do play one in Star Frontiers!

thespiritcoyote's picture
September 10, 2011 - 2:50am
I note this to be an internal game-based physics, not a compleate recreation of real physics...

Nebula may not be as much of a problem in "3-space" as they are in "V-space" ... what does a nebula look like from "inside the void" or from "outside 3-space" ... how much space-time fabric is distorted in the unobservable void by that mass...

The "void" gets it's name because it is "unobservable" space that exists outside the three-dimensional reference of any known living organisim (or semi-living construct), but still exists as a constant inside the universe...
 It is not like SW or B5 hyper-space: is not outside of the universe in a seperated dimension...
 It is not like AA Slipstream: does not allow course corrections from an altered state of matter...
 It is not like ST Warp-fields: does not allow conscious observation of space from inside an altered pocket of space...
 it is "like" but not "exactly" a fold-drive as it still does not "fold" anything but moves through an existing part of normal space that is irrelevant to the observation of all known existing entities in normal space...

It is inside the universe in an unobservable everywhere, from which nothing of it nor anything outside of it can be seen or thought... and occasionally drives sentience to insanity just contemplating it, and sapience to the edge when experiencing it...
Most ships have no "public observation decks" or "large windowed luxury cabins" and many passengers and crew are placed in void-stasis or take void-suppressants to avoid void-nausea and possible void-psychosis... details on these are left completely up to taste and are largely considered a non-issue...

Mass has more impact on "void" space travel than normal space travel ... that much is known
A nebula is said to effect void-jumps as a solid object, but CAN be flown through with enough patience, practice, and the best routes... few navigators have the ability... fewer captains have the nerve... no "official" nebula traversals have been successful...
The Xygag in particular caused problems for the Vrusk arrival, and blocked attempts to contact their homeworld or the lost portion of the colonists... and therefore interferes with tachyons somehow ...
All the nebula are assumed to block or impede communications and void-jumps as the reason no routes (...depicted by straight lines ...that are not straight in the curved voidspace mathematics...) travel through but only the outermost edges (where contact representations are not exact on the gridded flat map anyway)...

  but pirates, a few smugglers, some lucky and/or desperate fleet captains, and the sathar... have unofficially survived to tell tall-tales of foolish bravado...
  many more have been observed dying in the attempt...

This is an extrapolation from the descriptions given, and is but one theory...
 Flatland: The Movie
 Cosmos: A Personal Voyage <- could have easily influenced the Star Frontiers concepts...
 Cosmos - Carl Sagan - 4th Dimension

notes: The sathar are said to use something else, possibly completely different, and utterly alien... but apparently have much less trouble (or at least much less concern for) loosing ships to nebula traversals...
The mechanon have a rough time with "void-contemplation" as any organic might, but either have not developed another method, or ever been seen using another...
the capellan tech has played catch-up to frontier tech in many subtile ways and never really offered anything new, they have differences in technology and methodology that are mostly cosmetic but functionally identical...
(any other speculative interstellar big-boys in the area would be at some point beyond the sathar and nigh-invisible technologically ... or well below the rim-worlders pre-contact technology and effectivly invisible in generation ships ... but could likely all pass the nebulae without worry.)
Oh humans!! Innocent We discover a galactic community filled with multiple species of aliens, and the first thing we think about is "how can we have sex with them?".
~ anymoose, somewhere on the net...

if you square a square it becomes a cube...
if you square a cube does it become an octoid?

Identity Crisis's picture
Identity Crisis
September 9, 2011 - 11:30pm
I thank you all for your help.  Lots of great info and opinions here.